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ACL Tears

What is the ACL?

The ACL stands for the anterior cruciate ligament. It is one of the major ligaments in the knee, connecting the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The ACL plays a crucial role in providing stability to the knee joint, especially during activities that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, and pivoting.

How do injuries to the ACL occur?

Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are common among athletes who participate in high-risk activities such as soccer, football, skiing, and basketball. These can occur through various mechanisms, often involving sudden and forceful movements. Common scenarios leading to ACL injuries include:

  1. Sharp Twisting of the Knee: Sudden and forceful twisting of the knee, especially when the foot is planted on the ground and the body rotates.
  2. Sudden Deceleration: Rapid slowing down or deceleration, particularly when changing direction quickly or making a sudden stop.
  3. Cutting and Pivoting Movements: ACL injuries can happen during sharp cutting, pivoting, or sidestepping movements, especially common in sports like soccer and basketball.
  4. Abrupt Stops While Running: Coming to a sudden stop while running, which can place significant stress on the ACL.
  5. Awkward Landings from Jumps: Landing awkwardly from a jump, especially if the knee is not properly aligned or if there’s an uneven distribution of weight upon landing.
  6. Direct Contact: Direct impact to the knee, such as a collision with another player or object, can lead to ACL injuries.
  7. Falls or Traumatic Accidents: ACL injuries can also result from falls or traumatic accidents where the knee is subjected to a sudden, forceful impact.
  8. Gender Disparities: In certain sports, there is a higher risk for ACL injuries among female athletes. Factors such as anatomy, muscle strength imbalances, and hormonal differences may contribute to this increased risk.

What are the symptoms of an ACL tear?

An ACL tear manifests with distinct symptoms, including a sudden and intense pain at the time of injury. Some individuals report an audible “pop” or a sensation of popping when the tear occurs. Swift swelling of the knee follows, caused by the accumulation of blood within the joint. This swelling is often significant and noticeable. The injured knee may feel unstable, with a sense of “giving way” during movement. Additionally, there may be a loss of range of motion and discomfort while walking, leading some individuals to adopt a limp to alleviate weight-bearing on the affected knee. If you suspect you may have an ACL tear, it’s important to come see us for a prompt evaluation.

Can an ACL injury heal on its own?

An ACL injury typically does not heal on its own. The ACL is a vital ligament in the knee that provides stability, and when it is torn, the tissue does not have a significant capacity for self-repair. Unlike some other structures in the body, the ACL lacks a good blood supply, which impedes its ability to heal naturally.

The recommended treatment for a torn ACL often depends on the severity of the injury and the individual’s goals for returning to high impact sports. In cases of a partial tear or in patients with a low activity demand, conservative management may be considered. This can involve physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles and improve stability, as well as lifestyle modifications to avoid activities that may stress the knee.

However, in many cases, especially when the ACL tear is complete or associated with significant instability and functional impairment, surgical intervention may be recommended.

How is an ACL injury diagnosed?

If you suspect you have an ACL injury, it’s important to come see us right away. During your visit, Dr. Shane J. Nho will review your medical history, particularly what happened at the time of your injury, and perform a physical examination. He will perform specialized tests that assess the stability of your knee. X-rays will also be taken of your knee to assess for any fractures or dislocations. If Dr. Nho suspects you may have an injury to your ACL, he will order an MRI that will reveal any tears to the ACL or surrounding structures in your knee.

At a Glance

Dr. Shane Nho

  • Board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon
  • Team Physician for Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Steel
  • Performs more than 700 procedures each year
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